If you are interested in getting into marketing or PR, this interview is for you! Brianna McKinney is the founder of Bloom Communications. She is sharing what you need to know if you want to pursue a career in PR and how she knew it was time to launch her own business. Keep reading to learn about her journey and her tips for building your career!
Bloom Communications is an integrated PR and marketing agency bridging the gap between the marketing, market research, and public relations disciplines. Since 2012, Bloom has provided strategic consulting services to organizations making an impact in their communities. With specialization in nonprofit and healthcare, Bloom represents a portfolio of happy clients in a variety of industries from its offices in Austin, Texas and Portland, Oregon.
She worked with industry leaders such as Hewlett Packard, Microsoft, AOL, Atkins, iVillage.com, and BusinessWeek before branching out on her own, launching Bloom Communications to help nonprofits and for-profit companies with strategic marketing, public relations, and research-based consulting services.
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Tell me about your journey into PR?
My journey into PR started with my work at an agency focused on audience insights-based marketing. In that work, I noticed marketing and PR were often pretty siloed in companies, which resulted in a lot of mixed messages going out to external audiences. I then had an opportunity to join a PR agency and PR training institute and eventually became Venture Partner. In starting Bloom Communications, I wanted to bring everything I had learned in the areas of marketing, PR, and market-research together under one agency to offer well-rounded, integrated communications campaigns.
When did you know it was time to start your own business, Bloom Communications?
I had been waiting for the “right time” to start a business, but after having surgery (with lots of time to think during recovery), I realized there was never going to be a right time. It’s similar to what people say about having a child - there’s always going to be some reason to wait. Not enough money, not enough bedrooms in the house, too many things to do, etc. Anybody who is thinking about starting a business should know that there is never a right time. You have to go with your gut and stop putting roadblocks in your path. Putting yourself and your livelihood out there to start a business is scary, so it’s easy for those roadblocks to get in the way. Just be honest with yourself: are the roadblocks keeping you from taking that first step really just excuses that you’re letting stop you from creating?
Anybody who is thinking about starting a business should know that there is never a right time. You have to go with your gut and stop putting roadblocks in your path
What do you wish you had known before launching your company?
I wish I had known how exciting and rewarding it would be to hire people to work at a company that was my very own. For the first three years at Bloom, I was a solopreneur. As I was turning down great client and project opportunities because I couldn’t handle them myself with my workload, I realized that if I took those opportunities on, I would be able to hire people and give them a great place to work. If I had known how that would make me feel earlier on, I would have made hiring staff members more of a priority sooner than I did.
How has the PR Industry changed since you first started? (Social Media, 24-hour news cycle etc)
News organizations have changed dramatically in the past two decades. With the rise of high-speed internet and widespread adoption of smartphones, news organizations have evolved to be responsive to changing media consumption habits. Some have experimented with various subscription models and paywall options. After the recession of 2008, many legacy news organizations across the country closed or consolidated. Fewer outlets and reporters to cover news stories has become the norm. And the rise of social media has offered new ways to follow trending news around the clock -- 62% of Americans use social media as their primary source of news! (Pew Research Center) Not to mention the rise of influencer marketing, which depending on the context could arguably fall under the PR bucket.
Why do you feel PR is so important for companies in the digital age?
Having a PR strategy in place is crucial. Traditional PR stories and articles include feature TV spots, news articles, profiles, and media sources regularly turning to your organization for input and perspective. Securing visibility in this way can help you stand out from competitors in a world of complex media consumption habits and limited attention. Whether the goal is to increase brand awareness, cultivate greater brand affinity or become a vocal, trusted industry leader, organizations of all sizes can tap into the benefits of PR.
What advice do you have for someone looking to get into PR/marketing?
If you are interested in getting into marketing or PR, first, take some time to learn what that really means. I’m frequently asked to share advice with high school seniors and early year college students trying to figure out their majors about what it’s like to work in marketing or PR. The first thing I ask is why they’re interested, and I often find they think PR (in particular) is something that it’s not. For the record, PR is not all about what you see Samantha Jones doing on Sex and the City! So get curious, talk to people, and take a look at all of the skills required for positions in the field. And also think about what area of marketing or PR you are interested in. In the agency world where I live, there are many different roles, such as client facing roles, writing roles, analytics roles, etc. Make sure you do your research.
You can also ask to shadow someone who is in a role you’re interested in so you can get a better idea about the work you’ll be doing. This will help you figure out if marketing or PR is what you think (or hope) it is. Speaking to people in related fields will help ensure you end up finding a job you’ll truly be happy in.
What is a common myth about PR?
Among some of the myths out there (in addition to my earlier Sex and the City reference), one that comes to mind is that PR is all fluff and doesn't have a real ROI (return on investment). It’s important for brands and organizations to continually consider the value of traditional PR – where and when it can provide a way to break through to audiences. It’s also important to consider the cost of not building on foundational business reputation management elements as a company expands and matures.
What do you look for when hiring a PR specialist? What do they need to know?
Curiosity, creativity, and passion for paying close attention to news and trends across different kinds of media outlets. I also look for people who are or have the potential to become good storytellers. Additionally, a great attitude, solid work ethic, and someone who takes customer service seriously is an important characteristics to look for.
What are your typical clients? (Tech, Enterprise? Etc)
Our clients come from the healthcare sector, including anything from private practices to large hospital systems. We also service nonprofits in communities nationwide along with for-profit clients that actively support and give back to their communities.
What has been the most important business decision you have made for your company?
Hiring my first staff member. It was a huge culture shift from solopreneur to true business owner because as a business owner with employees, you have people depending on you for their livelihood. For any future entrepreneurs, business owners, or freelancers who are thinking about growing their business, know that your first hire is a truly critical and pivotal step. Do it because you want to build something, not because you want to work less (because you won’t).
What does a typical day look like for you?
Wearing multiple hats… and being able to switch those hats very quickly. My days include a lot of relationship building whether that be with existing clients, potential clients, or team members. And also everything in between -- even sweeping the floors or taking out the trash if I need to! It’s important to me that I never lose sight of where I came from and never ask anyone to do something I wouldn’t do (or haven’t done) myself.
How do you define success for your business and your PR Clients?
Success is a true partnership, collaboration, and trust between agency and client. For me, it’s important to build a real relationship with clients so they know we’re looking out for their best interests.
Our team is most successful when staff members feel like they are doing their best work in an environment where their work is truly appreciated. Also, providing the team with a healthy work-life balance is important, which means having time to spend with family and actually using those vacation days. A true sense of collaboration among team members is also a big indicator of success for me.
Finally, success from a business perspective includes providing people rewarding opportunities to utilize the skills they have and to pursue the things they’re passionate about -- and for our clients to benefit from those skills and passions.
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